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Seeing a movie in the theater is without a doubt, the best viewing experience possible. Nobody is going to knock on your door. Your dog can’t start barking at a crucial moment. You might even get the chance to turn your phone off. It’s the best way to unplug, relax, and let your mind wander a bit from the folds of reality. And with the growing trend of reality entertainment on television, sometimes it just feels good to watch something completely fictional.
Big Game is that type of story. It’s an adventure. It’s incredible. It’s loud, active, and shakes the theater. It’s ridiculous. It’s a movie that feels like America, mid 80’s. 10 years ago I would have passed on this type of film for something else; something a bit darker, and maybe less fantastical. But lately, I’ve found if I want that, I can just go to the television and take my pick of shows about relationships ending, police intervention, singing competitions, or Finnish cottage renovations. For this reason it was nice to close the theater doors and see some fiction.
Big Game is set in Lapland, in northern Finland, where a young boy named Oskari (Onni Tommila) begins a hunting trip on the eve of his 13th birthday. He hopes to return the following day with the head of a moose ( or something comparable) as a symbol of his entering into manhood. The hunt is interrupted when Oskari witnesses an incredible plane crash and later meets a stranded, confused, and shoeless American president ( Samuel L. Jackson). The two soon realise that while their meeting is a coincidence the plane crash is not. The film follows the pair through an unbelievable adventure as the president struggles to survive, and Oskari aims to show his family that he’s ready to become a man.
After seeing the film I was able to schedule a few minutes with director Jalmari Helander and Onni Tommila to discuss making the movie and their expectations following it’s release. Since the film is pretty unbelievable at points, and feels so much like a retro-action movie, I wanted to ask Helander about the modern entertainment market and whether or not it affects his choices when writing scripts. “I don’t have a choice . . . if I’m making a movie, this is a chance for me to do something you can’t experience in real life. This is also probably the reason I want to do movies,” said Helander. He added that seeing E.T. at the age of 7 had a profound impact on him and could be the initial inspiration for everything that he’s trying to accomplish on the big screen today.
The movie feels a bit like a 2015 Rambo film that’s been developed for a younger audience. We were able to agree that pre-teen boys are the perfect target for this type of adventure film. They’re old enough to follow the story with great interest and young enough to believe in the adventure still.
“I think 10-year-old boys are perfect for movies like First Blood even though they may be a bit violent,” Helander said laughing. He explained that as a kid, he saw some of those classic action movies a bit early ( in some people’s opinions) but to him, the timing was perfect and with Big Game he wanted to create a modern version of the classic adventure story. Tommila chimed in saying, “when I was 6, I watched Back to the Future many times . . . and this is what made me really like the movies.”
Since these classic films were the inspiration, it made sense to work with an experienced actor when filming Big Game. Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of the president of the United States who’s been separated from the crew of Air Force One somewhere over northern Finland. I’m told Jackson was initially interested in the movie because of his attraction to adventure stories. I wanted to know how nerve-racking it was to work with someone so high profile, who brings lots of experience but maybe also a fixed notion of how life should be on the set of a film. Tommila told me that “at first I was very nervous but then we ( Jalmari, myself, and Samuel) went to the forest to rehearse some scenes, and once we got to know each other, it was a lot easier.” How does this change the role of the director, when you have a guy who likes your story and is such a great addition to the cast? “We had to be well-prepared. Sam has a lot of rules,” Helander said smiling.
With the largest budget ever for a film produced in Finland, Helander said that even with the extra moving parts, it made life for him easier. He was able to focus on directing the film and less on micro-managing everything else on set. Now he can only hope that the film is received well both in Finland and the US. The film already received a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. Big Game opens March 19 here in Finland and this summer in the US.